Smoking in the Boardroom

Discussion in 'Marijuana News' started by Superjoint, Jun 14, 2002.

  1. By Jenifer Hanrahan, Staff Writer
    Source: Union Tribune

    He lives with his wife and kids in an tidy, old San Diego neighborhood. His two children, both in elementary school, play soccer. He takes them to games on Saturdays in his minivan.
    He also has a secret: Several nights a week, when the homework is finished and the kids are in bed, he slips outside to the dark space between his garage and his neighbor's hedge.

    He plucks a dried, green marijuana bud from a Ziploc bag, packs a pipe and inhales deeply. Then he goes upstairs, showers and changes his clothes so the kids won't smell smoke if they wake up and want their Daddy.

    "In my social circle, lots of people smoke pot," said the 40-something communications executive who asked that his name not be used because he's afraid of losing his job. "They are all professionals. Most have children. If we have a dinner party, a few of us will go outside and have a toke."

    Damon and Brenda van Dam's admission they smoked marijuana the night their 7-year-old daughter, Danielle, disappeared ignited a debate in the courtroom and the community about their fitness for parenthood. In his opening statement, David Westerfield's defense attorney used their pot-smoking to create an image of a cavalier attitude toward caring for their children.

    But not everyone was shocked to learn a respectable telecommunications engineer earning a good living enjoyed smoking dope in the evenings.

    The van Dams are in the company of doctors, lawyers, stock brokers and even members of law enforcement who furtively get high in their garages and on their decks, all the while terrified they'll be found out by their neighbors, employers and children.

    They are America's most secretive potheads – a vast underground of otherwise upstanding citizens secretly subverting the nation's drug laws.

    President Bush's TV commercials link buying drugs with supporting terrorism. The U.S. government spends hundreds of millions on border patrols and overseas drug interdiction.

    But to these upscale stoners, the drug war has nothing to do with them – it's as remote from their Neighborhood Watch-protected streets as drug cartel shootouts in Tijuana.

    They believe smoking weed is about as serious as fudging on your taxes, on the level of claiming the computer you bought for your kid was a business expense.

    And scoring good pot is a lot like popping open a '94 reserve cabernet: a harmless little indulgence that takes the edge off a stressful day.

    "To me, casual marijuana use is really no different than the casual drinking of hard alcohol," said the communications exec. "As long as you're doing it responsibly, at times when you're not caring for your children or driving, it's really no big deal – other than that it's illegal."

    Social acceptance

    Gauging the prevalence of marijuana-smoking among otherwise well-behaved, middle-class adults isn't easy. Most current research focuses on usage among teens or people arrested for other crimes.

    In one recent survey by Partnership for a Drug Free America, 15 percent of couples with children admitted to smoking marijuana in the last year.

    They're not all mean-street dysfunctionals or '60s burnouts. "We see the casual use of marijuana in all socioeconomic environments," said Alex Groza, a San Diego police sergeant and member of the Drug Enforcement Agency's Narcotics Task Force. " ... It's more accepted by society than ever."

    A 2000 Gallup poll found 34 percent favor legalizing marijuana, up from 12 percent when the question was first asked in 1969.

    Voters in eight states have approved medical marijuana initiatives. And polls show more than 70 percent support medical marijuana.

    Has pot smoking – once feared as a dangerous habit of the counterculture – become an unremarkable part of mainstream America?

    Pot smokers would have you believe it.

    "I mow my lawn on Saturdays. I put chlorine in the pool. I put gas in my SUV. I go to my kid's plays at school and the stupid bake sales," said Bob, a 40-something Web designer from Vista. "I also happen to enjoy marijuana. And there are a lot of people out there just like me."

    The National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws (NORML) is trying to prove it. Their goal: get 100 prominent Americans – CEOs, CPAs, MDs – to publicly proclaim they smoke pot in an open letter to major newspapers. So far, few have agreed.

    "Once people see how common it is, you are going to see marijuana legal in very short order," said Dale Gieringer, president of the NORML's California chapter. "The stereotype will fall away and people will realize marijuana isn't the dire threat they think it is."

    The trend toward marijuana acceptance troubles some doctors. A marijuana joint has more cancer-causing compounds than a tobacco cigarette, said Dr. Herbert Kleber, a professor of psychiatry and director of the division of substance abuse at Columbia University in New York City. Studies show heavy use can permanently impair the memory and that people who use marijuana are more likely to try harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin.

    As many as 200,000 people a year seek treatment for marijuana addiction, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

    "The data is increasingly clear that marijuana can cause physical dependence and there is a withdrawal syndrome," Kleber said.

    Not only that, pot smokers who contend smoking a joint is the same as having a couple of drinks are wrong, said Dr. Daniel Valentine, director of substance abuse services at Sharp Vista Pacifica in Kearny Mesa.

    The reason? Marijuana is illegal. Alcohol isn't. Whether or not you agree with the law, "you're giving the message to your children that illegal drug use is OK," Valentine said.

    Risk management

    In 2000, there were 1,579,566 drug arrests nationwide, according to FBI statistics. Nearly half – 734,497 – were for marijuana.

    Of those, 646,042 people were arrested for possession.

    But upper-middle-lass stoners aren't worried about getting busted by police. Police admit it: There's little chance they're going to arrest suburbanites quietly smoking a joint in the privacy of their own tract home.

    "The police department doesn't go around snooping in people's houses to see if they're smoking a joint at the kitchen table," said Groza, the San Diego police sergeant.

    Upstanding stoners are discreet. They don't buy dope on street corners. They have connections – friends or business associates who deal or grow the marijuana themselves.

    To keep their risk down, they buy in small quantities. Possession of less than an ounce marijuana in California is a misdemeanor that carries little more than a $200 fine. (The fine for running a red light is higher.)

    Nor do upscale marijuana connoisseurs smoke ordinary Mexican pot. They smoke premiums strains with names such as "Chronic" and "BC Bud" – highly potent pot that's often cultivated using a sophisticated system of hybridized plants, artificial lights and a soil-less growing system called hydroponics.

    "BC Bud" takes it's name from British Columbia, where much of it comes from. Premium pot can contain 15 to 25 percent tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), pot's psychoactive ingredient, compared with about 2 percent for the marijuana available to their hippie forebears in the '70s.

    Primo pot can sell for as much as $6,000 a pound.

    One former parole agent said he spends as much on marijuana as a car payment on a Beemer: $400 a month. He lights up most mornings with his cup of coffee.

    He and his wife frequently host parties attended by prominent members of San Diego government and business. The former parole agent supplies the pot. Whoever wants it simply smokes it discreetly in the back yard, out of respect for those who don't.

    Jeff Jarvis and his wife, Tracy Johnson, a 40-year-old couple from a Portland suburb, are among the few suburbanites actually trying to promote their pot smoking.

    They have a pro-pot Web site called:

    Their motto: "We're your good neighbors. We smoke pot."

    The couple said they were turned down when they tried to buy pro-pot advertising space on city buses, park benches and in their state's largest paper, the Oregonian. Nor would any radio station in their area run their ad – even the station that carries the "Howard Stern Show."

    "We set out to counteract the propaganda being put forth by groups like the Partnership for Drug Free America that portray drugs in general and pot smokers in particular as losers and bums," said Tracy, a homemaker.

    Since he started his campaign, Jeff Jarvis, a self-employed software engineer, said he hasn't lost a single client.

    But others fear they have much to lose.

    The communications exec believes he'd be fired if he made it known that he smokes pot. "If anyone found out, my life would be ruined," he said.

    His paranoia is well-founded. Corporate America, largely out of liability concerns, does not tolerate drug use.

    In 2001, 67 percent of companies surveyed by the American Management Association tested their employees for drugs. Of those, 61 percent did pre-employment testing of job applicants and 50 percent drug-tested employees.

    Marijuana can be detected in the urine for two to four weeks, depending on the potency and how much was smoked, Kleber said.

    Phil Blair, executive officer of Manpower Staffing Services, which provides some 15,000 workers to 600 companies, said he deals with only one company that does random drug testing.

    However, nearly every large firm he deals with has a "for cause" drug-testing policy, enabling employers test workers suspected of using drugs. It's also routine to drug test anyone who has an accident on job or who files a worker's compensation claim.

    The punishment for people who test positive for marijuana is straightforward: "If you're caught, you are instantly fired."

    The communications exec believes there's almost no chance of that happening to him. His company doesn't do random tests. He said he could, and would, stop immediately if that was the case.

    "It doesn't affect me as a husband or a father. It certainly doesn't affect my job," he said. "It's just a way to relax and kick back for the night."

    Note: From corporate America to suburbia, pot makes its mark on the mainstream.

    Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
    Author: Jenifer Hanrahan, Staff Writer
    Published: June 14, 2002
    Copyright: 2002 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.



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